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4 a.m. [Paperback]

Nina De La Mer
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 Aug 2011
Set in the early 1990s on a British army base, 4 a.m. tells the story of Cal and Manny, soldiers posted to Germany as army chefs. Bored and institutionalised, the pair soon succumb to the neon temptations of Hamburg's red-light district, where they dive into a seedy world of recreational drugs and all-night raves. But it is only a matter of time before hedonism and military discipline clash head on, with comic and poignant consequences.

Life-affirming raving soon gives way to gloomy, drug-fuelled nights in fast food restaurants, at sex shows, and in Turkish dive bars. As a succession of events ratchets up the pressure on Cal and Manny their friendship is tested, a secret is revealed, and a shocking betrayal changes one of their lives forever. 4 a.m. depicts life in a peacetime Army and a civilian world in which conflict is never far away. Driven by two distinctive voices, and written in a lively and buzzing style, Nina de la Mer's début novel holds a mirror up to youth culture at the end of the twentieth century. The reflection is not always a flattering one.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Myriad Editions (26 Aug 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0956559956
  • ISBN-13: 978-0956559951
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 720,149 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Nina de la Mer is a Scottish writer of contemporary fiction. Her debut novel 4AM, shortlisted for the Writers' Retreat Competition, was published in 2011. In 2012, she received an Arts Council Grant to write her second novel, LAYLA. Telling of seven days in the life of a reluctant lap dancer, the novel was published in February 2014.


Layla has been selected as a contender for the summer round of the People's Book Prize. If you've read and enjoyed the novel, you can vote for LAYLA by following the link below. Thank you!


Product Description


'Set on a British army base and in the anarchic club scene of '90s Hamburg, 4 a.m. tells the story of Cal and Manny, squaddies and diehard ravers, whose individual voices resonate in a sparkling debut novel of friendship, love and betrayal. An anthem for the E generation.' John Niven: 'Mesmerizing. And kind of frightening that a female writer can crawl so far into the male psyche.' --Bookgroup.info

About the Author

Nina de la Mer was born in Scotland and grew up there and in Brighton, where she now lives with her husband and daughter. Her nonfiction book The Modern Maiden's Handbook, a satirical take on the woman's self-help genre, was published in 2007 by Portico. 4 a.m., shortlisted for the West Dean Writer's Retreat Competition, is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4 a.m. is an outstanding first novel where hope and despair dance side by side in a euphoric haze of drugs.

Essex born Manny and Glaswegian Cal are the best of friends who are Army chefs at the Ballingfostel base in Germany in the early 1990s. By day they slave over hot stoves, by night they are slaves to ecstasy and other `dirties' as they search for a sense of acceptance on the sweaty dance floors of Hamburg's rave scene.

The chapters are written in the colloquial style. As Cal would say `it doesnae take yous long tae get intae it'. The language is seamless and absorbing as it draws you deeper into the characters' distorted world view.

Both Manny and Cal speak directly to the reader, putting you in the role of silent confident as each man tries to justify his choices. Who will sink and who will rise as Manny and Cal navigate their way through a minefield of paranoia, betrayal, secrets and lies?

4 a.m. is an original and well executed exploration of how positive and negative mental attitudes can have a profound impact on how well a human being will cope with the ups and downs of life. A remarkable book by an extraordinarily gifted writer, whose research into the psyche of the male persona explodes off every page.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disturbingly Good 17 Aug 2011
So well written you will forget that this tale of two male hardcore ravers was written by a woman. Nina understands the male psyche only too well, and tells a compelling story of two out of control British army cooks as they slog their way through the day, and party through the night in 90's Germany. The narrative is pure squaddie - no holds barred and full of character. Nina accurately portrays how two working class men from opposite ends of Britain become best friends through the tribulations of military life. To compensate for the monotony of barrack life they escape into the drug-fuelled hardcore rave scene, but it doesn't take long for events to spiral out of control. Dancing, deceit, love, betrayal, sex, drugs, war, salvation, prison and kebabs - it has it all. Only one of them is still standing at the end - but you'll have to read the book to find out!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Doing the "dirties" 15 Nov 2011
Format:Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Stuck in "Fally", a British Army base in Hamburg in the 90s, Cal and Manny were two young and bored squaddies with a shared interest in partying, or raving to be more precise, but not much interest in their jobs. Weekends were spent off-base dropping "eccies" and snorting "Billy" in pursuit of good times at the Tunnel club and the other exotic nightspots that the hedonistic city had to offer. They soon hook up with Emma and Steffi, a Brit and a boxhead (German) who also take to the "dirties" (drug) scene with a vengeance. At that time their only concern was coping with the comedown whilst trying to do some sort of a job in the kitchen under the watchful eye of the sadisitic Corporal Clarke.

All good things come to an end however and the plot takes a darker turn as fellow squaddie Iain arrives on the scene and causes trouble in their relationships and personal lives. Manny is coerced into working with Iain running pills between Hamburg and the `Dam whilst Cal gets frustrated with his relationship (or lack of) with Steffi and a tour of Bosnia looming.

This is a tough read, particularly at the end. To start with the two soldiers are interchangeable, both with the same job, "hobby" and outlook. The author cleverly switches between them, telling their own individual tales in the first person, Manny in English and Cal in his native "Jockinese" which can be a bit tricky at first but I was fluent in "Glasgae" by the end. The characters are fabulously developed as you are lead into the deepest recesses of their often drug addled minds. The prose is colourful, offensive, colloquial and seriously funny by turn. De la Mer pulls no punches as their lives twist and turn and they struggle to keep it together before a tragic and not so tragic finale. It's Trainspotting meets Auf Wiedersehen and a tight, claustrophobic but ambitious book that works on all levels.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping, moving and exquisitely crafted novel 10 Oct 2011
There is a danger with a novel of this ilk - one set in a drug-fuelled, slang laden, man man's world - that one might fail to look beyond the pills and thrills to appreciate the finely crafted story. I would urge potentIal readers not to make that mistake, because 4am not only entertains relentlessly through its depiction of the underbelly of army life and wild times scenes on the German club scene, but tells with great skill the compelling tale of two friends, Manny and Cal, and the inevitable spiral into which they descend. The plot could abandon them there, delivering a retro cautionary tale, but instead carries the protagonists and the reader towards an unexpected and perfectly pitched ending.
It is no mean feat to retain a reader's engagement with characters at times far from deserving of sympathy, and yet I felt glued to them and their exploits, willing them to conquer their addictions and their fears. They are complex men: full of bravado and insecurity, joie de vivre and self-loathing, punctured by their pasts and lacking much prospect of a future - a unique blend which compelled me to read on.

There are many other pleasures besides - from discovering the world of the army cook to gaining an education in Glaswegian slang. And anyone who dabbled in the "dirties" back in the day will enjoy reliving the tunes and highs of that unique time, although anyone who indulged to the extent Manny and Cal do might have trouble remembering much. All in all, this is a very well written book, with tight dialogue, plenty of humour and a great rhythm to the writing. A great and highly recommended read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars I enjoyed it, got bored
Hard work, bouncing back and forth, throw in some local dialect in writing and it soon loses the story for me. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Ed Meister
3.0 out of 5 stars not bad
Enjoyed the read, it was fun and easy to get into. Not a favourite but enjoyed it all the same.
Published 7 months ago by Cassieth19
4.0 out of 5 stars Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches
A dark, well told tale of two British Army squaddies, Cal and Manny, stationed in Hamburg in the early 1990s who spend their leisure time immersed in the city's rave scene. Read more
Published 17 months ago by nigeyb
5.0 out of 5 stars Welshian Romp
This is the story of Manny, from Essex and Glaswegian Cal; two army chefs cooking by day and raving, shagging, drinking, eating and getting mad for it at night. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mr. D. J. Brindle
3.0 out of 5 stars 4am. Nina Dr late Mer
Sent me back to the 90's. Although I was too young to be a raver (and I'm a rocker at heart) I do remember the media about all night raves etc: and of course the drugs that come... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Jennie cupcake
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book!
This is a fantastic book, more than a little bit exciting and at times quite troubling. These are people who live lives we couldn't imagine. A fantastic read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Anthony Blare
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I wasn't sure I would enjoy the book - armies and raves surely not really my thing - but I was so wrong! I was gripped by the writing and read the whole thing in a couple of days. Read more
Published on 17 Sep 2012 by X. Chown
5.0 out of 5 stars Strong characters that linger
It's been well over a year since I last read about the misadventures of Manny and Cal, and even though I've read a lot of other books since then, the voices of the characters still... Read more
Published on 25 Aug 2012 by bb
5.0 out of 5 stars Trip down memory lane
Think `Aufwiedersehen Pet' on acid and you can begin to imagine an early 90's techno scene in Germany, where E'd up squaddies and students hugged on dance floors in Hamburg's... Read more
Published on 23 Aug 2012 by JB
5.0 out of 5 stars original and great fun
I loved this fast paced story of two raver squaddies- all told brilliantly in Irvine Welsh style (and this is more than a match for any Welsh has written) Highly original and... Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2012 by A Reader
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